Why Seniors Struggle with Medication Compliance — and How You Can Help!

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We are fortunate to live in some of the most enlightened and medically advanced times in history. This is especially true in the area of prescription drugs for older adults. Major improvements have been made in medicine for Alzheimer’s, heart conditions, and Parkinson’s disease.

Unfortunately, all the medical advances won’t help your loved one if they fail to take their prescriptions. Read on to learn some of the reasons older adults avoid medication compliance – and what you can do to help.

Why older adults may not take their meds

If there was single reason for medication noncompliance among older adults, the issue would be much easier to address. However, the reasons behind this insidious phenomenon are as varied as the patients themselves. They include:

Physical factors: Low vision, for example, can lead to problems reading prescription labels or warnings. Hearing problems may mean your loved one doesn’t benefit from instructions about how to take their medication. Arthritis or general weakness can prevent older adults from opening prescription bottles, and decreased mobility may leave them no way to get to the pharmacy in the first place.

Cognitive factors: If your loved one suffers from forgetfulness, or a dementia-related condition like Alzheimer’s, they may not understand the importance of taking their medications – or simply forget to do so. Managing multiple medications can also be challenging for aging adults, as they may be easily overwhelmed with all the different timing and dosage aspects.

Psychological factors: These cannot be discounted when considering medication non-compliance. Your loved one may be in denial of their illness, and may see their prescriptions as a reminder of that illness – or just a reminder of growing older. They may also have trouble with side effects, which can range from mildly annoying to extremely uncomfortable.

Medication compliance: it ain’t all or nothin’

Complicating matters even further is that medication compliance isn’t necessarily an all-or-nothing scenario. Your loved one may not outright refuse or forget to take their prescriptions. Instead, they may not take the correct medication, not take it at the correct time of day, or may not take it in the correct amount. They may also take it sporadically instead of on a regular basis. Some dietary choices can also influence the efficacy of particular medications. Not only will these “mini non-compliances” make the prescriptions less effective, but depending on your loved one’s health condition, could actually harm them.

Helping your loved one: a prescription for success

One of the first things you can do to help your loved one is to address and physical or cognitive issues that may be limiting their medication compliance. For instance, a new pair of glasses may allow them to better see prescription labels or a hearing aid can help them understand any instructions given.

Second, don’t be afraid to contact professionals like doctors for their input as well. For example, they may be able to prescribe a comparable medication with fewer of the side effects that are troubling your loved one.

For cognitive issues, having a visiting nurse from a qualified home health agency can be invaluable. He or she will be able to set up an older adult’s medications; you can even get an aide to see that they’re taken at the right times and in the right amounts. These geriatric specialists are also used to helping seniors cope with the psychological challenges that accompany medication noncompliance and can help clients adjust to their new routine. Needless to say, your loved one’s physical limitations will be much less of an issue as well, as visiting professionals can pick up prescriptions, open bottles for them, and the like.

Don’t wait to help your loved one with medication compliance

It’s easy to see that if your loved one takes regular prescriptions, strict medication compliance is absolutely necessary for their well-being. If you find that they’re having trouble, don’t delay in taking the steps above. Not only may you be able to prevent a major medical emergency, but you’ll be helping keep your loved one’s health at optimal levels for as long as possible.

If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.

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